18 Apr 2024

Luxon refuses to guarantee public consultation on AUKUS Pillar 2

5:36 pm on 18 April 2024

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has repeatedly dodged questions over whether the government would sign up to AUKUS Pillar 2 without consulting the public.

He was asked to guarantee the New Zealand public would be consulted if the government signed up to the deal.

"Those are things that our officials will work through in the coming months and years, as I've said to you," he said.

He was asked again.

"We'll work our way through that, all we're saying at this point is exactly what the previous government said, we're open to exploring it, we need to understand it, we need to see if there is an opportunity or a role for New Zealand to play, but we'll work our way through that, and our officials will work their way through that."

A third question of whether the public would be consulted proved not to be the proverbial charm.

"Again, it's all too premature," he said. "In opposition I tried to be as bipartisan as I could with the previous government, and we'll maintain the same position which is that we're open to exploring options under Pillar 2 of AUKUS."

It was put to him the coalition parties had not campaigned on joining AUKUS, so did the government not have a mandate to do so without consulting the public.

"Again, it's just way too premature. What we've got to do is just first and foremost identify whether there is an opportunity or options available for us to explore under Pillar 2," Luxon said.

Former Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr, at a Labour Party-hosted event at Parliament, had earlier warned against New Zealand joining the Australia, United Kingom and United States defence pact.

Speaking alongside former Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Tuvalu prime minister Enele Sopoaga, Carr said the tech-focused Pillar 2 was "fragrant, methane-wrapped bull****".

"Why do I call it bull****? Because it's been cobbled together to make it look like there's more to AUKUS than subs - there isn't," he said.

He also heavily criticised Pillar 1 of the security deal, which primarily focused on providing nuclear submarines to Australia.

Luxon said the government's position was the same as what the previous Labour government's was: to investigate what exactly Pillar 2 entailed and consider whether to sign up or not.

"All we're saying it that we're open to exploring opportunities under Pillar 2 on AUKUS," he said.

"It's a little bit confusing to be honest, to know whether this is Phil Twyford's position or Chris Hipkins' position or a Labour Party position. It seems to have changed from what it was just 150 days ago when they were in government."

AUKUS has been framed by some commentators as an effort to stem China's growing geopolitical power and its increasing presence in the South China Sea.

Luxon said the government did not take positions on individual claims on the South China Sea, but expected all parties to be compliant with international law.

Both the joint statements issued by Luxon - the first alongside Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the other with Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin - highlighted concerns from the leaders about the South China Sea.

Luxon said New Zealand was concerned about the behaviour of ships in the area and tensions should be resolved diplomatically.

Put to him that China had warned having the United States carrying out training exercises in the area would inflame tensions, he said there had been long-standing security arrangements with different nations.

He said New Zealand's approach is to ensure all parties respect international law.

New Zealand has not considered whether it would join more training exercises, he said, but they would "consider looking at all those things in due course".

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